JUNEAU -- The value of mineral production in Alaska hit an estimated $3.1 billion last year, a figure driven largely by prices for zinc and gold, according to a state report released Wednesday.
That figure compares with $2.5 billion in 2009 and a record $3.4 billion in 2007.
Zinc and gold accounted for just over three-quarters of the total. Lead, silver, coal and peat, and industrial minerals also contributed.
The report -- published by the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys and the commerce department's Division of Economic Development -- presents an optimistic picture of an industry that it says continues to grow.
Part of that growth is attributed to Alaska's mineral potential. Part, too, is due to market demand and available capital to pursue projects, said Wanetta Ayers, the economic development division director.
The report found that $264.4 million was spent last year on minerals exploration, 47 percent more than in 2009 and the sixth straight year that exploration expenditures topped $100 million. Forty-three percent of the 2010 spending came from two projects: the Pebble gold and copper prospect, and the Donlin Creek gold prospect.
The group promoting the Pebble Mine is working to complete a prefeasibility study next year. It was announced this summer that a prefeasibility study for the Donlin project was being updated and the permitting process could be initiated early next year.
Exploration is seen as a sign of interest and production values to come, the report said.
Spending on mineral development stayed above $200 million for the seventh consecutive year but was down about 11 percent from 2009, at $293.3 million. Ayers said some large projects that have been under exploration have yet to file for permits to develop. Additionally, not all exploration projects lead to development.
The industry added 592 jobs.
By BECKY BOHRER